Thursday, August 7, 2014

Principal or Among—What is in a Word?

Every so often a reader writes in about the changes in words regarding the Book of Mormon scriptural record. While many of these have to do with differences in acceptable grammar between 1830 and now, others are based on different matters.
     Take for instance the change in the introduction to the Book of Mormon between 1830 and 1981, and that publication and the following versions. As an example, the 1981 introduction was the only text that said "Lamanites were the principal ancestors of American Indians.” Sometime later, LDS authorities instructed Doubleday, which published the only unofficial version of the Book of Mormon, to change its introduction to read: "Lamanites were among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
The problem lies in the fact that people misunderstand the difference between the scriptural record (what Joseph Smith translated from the plates) and the introduction (added by modern leaders to help the reader with a basis of what is included within the translation).
    Unfortunately, this is what happens when man thinks he knows what God means but has not said, and inserts his own thinking into the scriptural record. That introduction and wordage was never in the record Joseph Smith translated, it was not even in my very dog-eared 1977 edition. The introduction first appeared, as far as I know, in the 1981 edition, and by my 1999 reprint, the statement was changed again to read: “…all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
    The problem is, people do not bother to understand what they are reading. The Introduction is clearly shown to be just that, an introduction written in our day to give the reader a little background on what they are about to read. While members have heard this from earliest Primary age, non-members, investigators, and those coming across this for the first time, are aided in their mind-set for reading the scriptural record, which actually starts with Moroni’s comment on the title page, and then with 1 Nephi 1:1. The Introduction and chapter headings have been added to assist the reader, as indicated above—they are not actually part of the scriptural record.
    The wonderful thing about the Lord, is he is willing to work with imperfect men to lead and direct his Church here on Earth. It has also always been his way to allow man to learn from his own mistakes. Imperfect men, by definition of course, are not perfect, i.e., we make mistakes from time to time. In fact, Moroni makes that crystal clear in his title page comment: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may he found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”
May I most humbly, being an imperfect man, suggest that when you read the scriptural record, try recognizing the things that are man’s imperfection and separate them from the words of God, which are perfect. This is what Joseph Smith meant when he told the brethren of the early Church, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” He was not referring to man’s imperfections (spelling, grammar, etc.), but to the word of God contained within the book’s pages.
Top Left: Running the pages off the press. Note that each page is written without chapter, verse, or separation; Top Right: Copy of an original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Note again that the pages are not divided into chapter or verse, or divided by columns; Bottom: Three pages of the original manuscript written by the scribe. Note again no division of chapter or verse
    After all, the original translation Joseph Smith did was not in chapter and verse, but one continuous writing, similar to how a regular book is written. It was not divided into chapters and verses until 1879, when Orson Pratt was given that assignment along with the help of James E. Talmage, who was only 17 years old at the time. In case you are interested, the Book of Mormon was divided into double-column pages in 1920, and to the book were added chapter headings, chronological data, revised footnote references, a pronouncing vocabulary, and an index. Elder Talmage, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was the chairman of the committee that affected these changes. The Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price were changed to double-column pages in 1921.
Now, having said all that, let me also suggest a small bit of information in defense of Bruce R. McConkie’s (far left) statement that was inserted in the prologue of the 1981 edition. It is also true that many Church presidents have taught that the Americas were largely inhabited by Book of Mormon peoples. Even Spencer W. Kimball (left) said that Lehi, the family patriarch, was "the ancestor of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea." All contrary arguments, of course, fall under the category of recent DNA testing of a tiny sample of only 12,000 American Indians.
    Whether or not the specific word “principal” should have been used by McConkie is actually irrelevant. The point is, nobody really knows where the pre-Columbian population came from, nor how many there were, though numbers range from 10 million (estimated in 1900), to 50-100 million (estimated in 2001), or perhaps even more, according to Alan Taylor American Colonies: History of the United States, Vol 1 (2002).
    Also, we need to keep in mind that the word “principal” means “first in order of importance, main,” or “leading, primary, foremost, predominant.” Thus, the term “principle ancestors” would mean “the main ancestors, the most important ancestors, the leading ancestors,” etc., but not the “only ancestors.” That others obviously landed on the Western Hemisphere and intermarried with the indigenous natives, a fact that exists without questions between the Spanish and Aztec, Olmecs, Puripechis, Huastecas, Maya, and Yaquis (Mexicans); Spanish and Indians (Mesitizo); Portuguese and Indians (Mesitizo); Europeans and Indians (Half-breed or Mixed); Canadians and Indians (Métis); Puerto Ricans and Mexicans/Indians (Puertorriquenas); French and Karitiana (Brazil)/Sardinians; and the list can go on. From at least the 1550s, we have had lineage mixtures throughout the area of the Western Hemisphere. To say who is or who is not the “only” ancestor is simply not possible; however, since we have an ancient record of peoples who dominated the scene in the Western Hemisphere for about 2500 years, claiming their descendants are the “principle” ancestors of the indigenous population before the Spanish and Europeans arrived is probably as good an explanation of the pre-Columbian people as any other.
It is also very interesting that Nick Patterson, Priya Moorjani, Yontao Luo, et all, in Ancient Admixture in Human History, claims “We do not of course think that there has been substantial gene flow back into Europe from Amazonia. The only plausible explanation we can see for our signal of admixture into the French is that an ancient northern Eurasian population contributed genetic material both to the ancestral population of the Americas, and also to the ancestral population of northern Europe.” Now wouldn’t that be interesting should that “ancient northern Eurasian population” be Lehi’s ancestry? The point is, all of this, no matter how many tests, DNA comparisons, etc., we simply do not know, nor do we have the knowledge or technical expertise, to make claims about ancestry 2000 years ago or more, despite all the claims to the contrary.
    While I do not and never have had a problem or concern with all this, I do recognize that when man does things, there is always a possibility of a mistake cropping up somewhere—we are not perfect beings. In my mind, whether one says that the Lamanites were the progenitors of the American Indian, or that they were the principal progenitors of the American Indian, I see so little difference that I would never waste the time over such an unimportant point. It is only when such statements go against or are in opposition to the actual scriptural record that I take exception, which any reader of this blog can testify.

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